Welcome to FPL's final third.
The classic arc of any narrative is the three-act model. It is the third and final act that decides the fate of the characters involved. Typically, it contains the biggest rise or biggest fall of the story's protagonist. Such is the case for FPL managers everywhere. Yes, we saw our way through Act 1, launching our squads into play, figuring out who our heroes and viliians werre. Then, we entered Act 2, where we settled into a bit of a groove as our paths began to diverge from one another, creating our own unique storyline. Now, we get to Act 3 - the big payoff. The part of our journey that will determine whether we are dealing with a feel-good story or a nightmare episode of Black Mirror.
What makes Act 3 in FPL like a summer blockbuster Marvel Universe movie compared to the rest of the season? Why, it's those gosh darn chips, of course! Opinion vary on what kinf of effect the chips have had on the FPL game since its introduction, but no one can argue that it makes the final third of the season absolutely frenetic. This week, it is not too difficult to navigate. Consider this the outer bands of the FPL hurricane making its way to your shore. The main objective - have 11 decent options who you can start and account for players that may be on a blank this week.
For the record, clubs who do not have a match this weekend include: Brighton, Chelsea, Everton and Manchester City. his should not be too difficult a round to prepare for. We have had time to adjust to the double gameweeks for City and Everton earlier this month, so with free transfers and three bench spots to stash (4 counting your keeper), the vast majority of managers should be ready to treat this round as a relatively normal one.
Now, there is no one strategy that can apply to all of us for this final stretch of the season. Here is what should be certain: We will have two more double gameweeks, in Rounds 32 and 35, where likely 8 or 10 clubs will play twice. Bench boost should be played in one of these rounds to get a potential 15 active players eligible for 30 potential matches. Remember also, beyond this week, that there are blank gameweeks on the horizon. Weeks 31 and 33. One of these rounds would certainly seem ripe for the Free Hit chip, where you can load up on players only for that round that have a fixture, then revert back to your original squad for the next round. We still have three rounds beyond the one this weekend before the next big decision needs to be made. If you have decided already to use your Free Hit or Wildcard to deal with Week 31's ten blanks, you can continue to play your transfers as normal, picking the best form player that can most help your club immediately. However, if you have not made up your mind on what to do with your chips yet, the best thing to do with your transfers is to bring in the best players you can that do not blank in Week 31. This can only create more options for you once the time comes to start unleashing these chips.
That said, for the record, clubs who do not have a match in Week 31 include: Arsenal, Brighton, Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Man City, Man United, Southampton, Tottenham, Watford and Wolves.
Right, we have some time to dig deeper into the blanks and double gameweeks coming, but we have two Friday kickoffs this week so it is time to get down to business and look at the landscape ahead of Week 27...
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD
So now it is time to look at the players to think about ahead of Week 4. As a reminder, there are four categories of players which I feel are worth mentioning week to week when making decisions about transfers....
1) Players to buy
2) Players to sell
3) Players to hold onto
4) Players to avoid buying
I will also include later in the section, my top choices for the captain's armband. While I will consider every player from A to Z, you will normally find the usual suspects there.
Right, so let's dive in...
*Just as a reminder, keepers should always be the last position to think about using transfers for, unless there is an urgent need. So, when you see who I have listed here, bear in mind that my keeper advice does not carry as much weight as the outfield positions.
Player to buy: Kasper Schmeichel - After battling through three straight rounds where Leicester played Liverpool, Man United and Spurs, the Foxes have everything looking good for investment with plus fixtures and no blanks to deal with this weekend or Week 31. Expect to see several Foxes recommended in this column.
Player to sell: Ederson, Jordan Pickford, Matt Ryan, Kepa - These are your four keepers who do not play this weekend. If you are like me, you only have one keeper that actually starts every week. If that applies to you and that one keeper is in this list, then you have to ship them out.
Player to hold: Martin Dubravka - Newcastle have just one clean sheet in their last eight, but it was against tough opposition. The schedule is much brighter for them now, so if you have Dubravka, do not give up on him now, he should start a nice run of form starting with a home game against Huddersfield this weekend.
Player to avoid: David De Gea - Playing the Reds this weekend, I would imagine most would not want to pick this round to add de Gea, but I wanted to point out that not only do the Red Devils blank in Week 31, they are one of two confirmed sides to also go without a match in Week 33. Now, this means he should be a popular add for the double gameweeks, along with several of his teammates, but he should stay out of your plans until you play a chip/wildcard.
Player to buy: Ricardo Pereira - It took a while for Pereira to get the attention he deserves, about half the season to be exact. He is no secret now. Again, I have to be bullish on Leicester investment headed into this round. They play three of their next four at home against Palace, Brighton and Fulham. They also play Burnley and then, in blank week 31, a trip to Watford. Pereira offers real potential returns on both sides of the ball.
Player to sell: Southampton options - With one exception...Jan Bednarek. If you own Bednarek, odds are you brought him in more as an enabler than someone you depend on as a starter most weeks. Well, get used to benching him and sell anyone else because the Saint have a brutal month ahead. The next five weeks include a trip to the Emirates, another to Old Trafford, a meeting with Spurs and a blank. You can't sell Southampton options fast enough.
Player to hold: Sead Kolasinac - Nothing like a last-second own goal/yellow card to turn a huge fantasy day into a 2 point heartache. Such was the case for Kolasinac his last time out. Not only should current managers hold, I think he is worth buying if, say you are .1m or .2m short on getting Pereira. Playing at home to Southampton and Bournemouth over the next two rounds, Kolasinac has as much potential as Pereira. I just like the Leicester man for longer-term.
Player to avoid: Davinson Sánchez/Tottenham center backs - Sanchez raised eyebrows with his goal in Week 26 and offers Tottenham defensive coverage at a sub-6m price. His spot may seem safe. Despite Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen back healthy, Sanchez was called upon for his 5th straight league start and did not disappoint. Still, I think he and Alderweireld could be splitting time and, though Tottenham have a decent matchup this weekend, they then get Chelsea and Arsenal back-to-back, not to mention a blank in Week 31.
Player to buy: Paul Pogba - This will not win the award for "hipster pick of the week". The word is out, Pogba is on fire. He has been on fire as soon as José Mourinho walked out the door. Still, he is behind Mo Salah in ownership percentage, so some of you still have not taken your medicine. Do United play Liverpool, the league's joint-top side (and a game in hand) with the league's best defensive record this weekend? Yes. Does that deter me from adding Pogba if I do not have him already? No, no, no, no, no. His class and form as it is at the moment, over a 90-minute shift, he is going to deliver or come close.
Player to sell: Everton options - All eyes were on midfield options between Everton and Manchester City in the season's first double gameweek round. In many cases, it was disappointment from both sides at the position, but while Leroy Sané left managers upset because he didn't start either match, Everton investors did get one start from Sigurdsson and Richarlison, and they put up a dud. I say sell Everton mids here because if you are in a situation where you have a player or two from there and from City, then I would stash the City player on your bench and sell the Toffee.
Player to hold: Felipe Anderson - The Brazilian has only one attacking return, an assist, since Week 19 and managers have steadily been moving him out. However, if I owned him, I would stick and look at him as a potential massive differential. Home games against Fulham, Newcastle and Huddersfield as well as a trip to Cardiff over the next five weeks should see West Ham score their fair share of goals and I have to think Anderson is going to get his share of the pie.
Player to avoid: Joao Moutinho - A slight alteration in the way Wolves have lined up in recent weeks has seen Moutinho play a more attacking role in central midfield, and it has led to some very good production from a budget player. In fact, only four midfielders in the FPL form guide are doing better in the past month or so - Pogba, Heung-Min Son, Raheem Sterling and Sadio Mane. That is some serious company. Two reasons why I say no to investment. One - I have to find the extra cash and back Diogo Jota if I am bringing in a Wolves midfielder (assuming Jota is declared available for the weekend). The .7m more for Jota is much, much better value for his explosive potential. The other reason would lead one to avoid both. Wolves play just once at home over the next five rounds, which includes a blank and a trip to Stamford Bridge.
Player to buy: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - Let's see...Aguero doesn't play. Neither does Higuain. Everyone owns Rashford already. Too expensive a risk to rush Harry Kane back in...surely Aubameyang is the standout forward for this weekend, and next, with home games against the Saints and the Cherries to close out February. You would think with these facts present, Aubameyang would have seen at least one price rise already during this extended break between rounds. You would be wrong. The Arsenal striker has actually had his price drop once since the last deadline passed.
Player to sell: Alexsandar Mitrovic - Things are looking rather grim for Fulham's chances of survival. Caludio Ranieri has been able to make some minor improvements but it has been a shambles all season defensively for the Cottagers and, after a nice start, Mitrovic has really dropped off a cliff, scoring in just two games since Week 13. Now, Fulham have to find a way to get results over their next five that includes three on the road and home games against Chelsea and Liverpool.
Player to hold: Jamie Vardy - I cannot quite bring myself to nominate him as a "buy" but Vardy is a certain hold for those that currently own him. After a lenghthy dry spell that culminated in a Week 26 benching, fortune looks to be turning favorably for Vardy, as he scored from off the bench to get his confidence back. That should see him back in the XI going forward and, as mentioned already, Leicester have a tasty schedule ahead of them.
Player to avoid: Chris Wood - I was a big advocate of Wood heading into this season, seeing him as the best among his price range in the FPL market. It has taken half a season, but the New Zealand international has finally found his scoring touch, with five of the six goals he scored this season coming in the last eight games, including a brace last time out. He doesn't quite meet the "gotta have him" requirements yet. As long as Raúl Jiménez stays consistent, he has been and will continue to be the best option from that group.
TOP CAPTAIN CHOICES
3) Paul Pogba
4) Mo Salah
5) Sadio Mane
That's it from me this week folks. Please, bear in mind much can change between the publishing of this column and the FPL deadline on Friday night. Remember, some injuries are not revealed until just before the deadline. Always try to refrain from executing your transfers for as long as possible to avoid wasting it on a player who turns out to have had a problem in training. That said, if you only have just enough money for the player you are looking to bring in and that player is at risk of rising in price, then sometimes you need to take a calculated risk and hope the fantasy gods will be kind to you.
Good luck, and may your arrows be green.